Accountable Body to LEP
The GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) was established in May 2011 as part of a central government drive to stimulate economic recovery on the back of the recession, through greater engagement direct with businesses and the private sector.
Gloucestershire was fortunate to have a strong foundation upon which to build GFirst LEP, as it already had a long standing public / private economic partnership (formerly the Gloucestershire Development Agency and then Gloucestershire First), as well as core geography and a well defined Functional Economic Area.
The council plays a pivotal role as the lead local authority partner to the LEP and primary local funder, maintaining a prominent seat on the LEP Board and ESIF Management Committee. Considerable officer time (in kind) is invested in assisting with aspects of the day to day management operations of the Partnership, including serving as ‘Accountable Body’ for a range of EU and UK government funding streams awarded to the locality via the LEP.
As ‘Accountable Body’ the council has a role to assure the financial transparency and accountability of the LEP. As the council had undertaken this role previously for the economic partnership, this maturity and experience helped to ensure that efficient systems and management controls were designed and put in place from the outset. For example, an Assurance Framework was established and the LEP was supported to become a Community Interest Company (CIC) to ensure its practices are fully transparent. The council is able to take a collaborative and flexible approach to this role.
GFirst LEP is one of the highest performing LEPs in the country and has almost delivered its entire £107m Growth Programme portfolio. GFirst was also one of only a small handful of LEPs to secure the full award of growth funding requested through the Strategic Economic Plan submission process, due largely to the strong track record of delivery Gloucestershire has demonstrated and the local management regime the council adopts for the handling of devolved external funding.
In addition to providing the Accountable Body service, the council has played a significant role in enabling and accelerating projects that have stalled, by providing capacity and resource; taking on additional risk ourselves to support the delivery of complex projects, such as the Cinderford Spine Road and GlosCol College campus; and providing brokerage/additional contract negotiation support when relationships with delivery partners become conflicted and/or break down. The council also provides the LEP with project management support, working together on large infrastructure and regeneration projects that make a big difference to the community.